Beijing, capital of China, is located northwest of the Gulf of Bo Hai, in north-eastern China. Formerly known as Peking, the city is the second largest city in China after Shanghai and is recognised as the political, educational and cultural centre of the People's Republic of China. Situated at the northern edge of the North China Plain and circled on three sides by mountains, Beijing was a strategic northern outpost of the Chinese Empire throughout much of its history. With interruptions, it has been a capital of China for approximately 1000 years. Tatar, Mongol, Ming and Quing dynasties have all ruled from here before the city become capital of the republic.
Foremost of the sights to see is The Forbidden City, the walled palace and inner compound of China's emperors and imperial family and their retainers, so named because ordinary citizens were not allowed inside. Today it contains the opulent walled complex of the Palace Museum, palaces and seat of power for 24 emperors of the Ming and Ch'ing dynasties. The Forbidden City is surrounded by a 170-foot-wide moat and 33-foot-high wall, covers more than 175 acres, and is traditionally reputed to have 9,999 rooms. Constructed between the 15th and 18th centuries, it is considered the best-surviving example of classical Chinese architecture. Immediately to the south is Tiananmen Square, a huge plaza that can hold up to a million people and view the Monument to the People's Heroes and the Great Hall of the People, home to the People's Congress. Other sights include the Summer Palace, located in a 700-acre park on Lake Kunming. There are several fashionable shopping areas, the most famous of which is Wangfujing Avenue, just east of the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square.
To the north of Beijing is the legendary Great Wall of China that, as it now stands at Badaling, dates mainly from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). However, more than 20 states and dynasties were involved in its construction over a period of 2,000 years. Although simple in structure, the wall remains the world's largest engineering and building project. At its greatest extent, the wall stretched 3,750 miles and was supplemented by more than 1,000 fortified passes and 10,000 beacon towers. Winding up and around the valleys, it disappears in each direction into the mountains of rural China. Also outside the city, visit the serene valley, Shisanling, where 13 of 16 Ming emperors chose to be buried. Walk along the Sacred Way, lined by 12 sets of sculptured stone animals.
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